|Born||William Dole Eckert
January 20, 1909
|Died||April 16, 1971
|Title||Commissioner of Baseball|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Army Air Corps
United States Air Force
|Years of service||1930–1961|
|Awards||Distinguished Service Medal|
William Eckert was born on January 20, 1909 in Freeport, Illinois. Eckert, who grew up in Madison, Indiana, graduated from the United States Military Academy in June 1930. It was there that Eckert earned the nickname "Spike" while playing football. He then attended the Air Corps Flying Schools at Brooks and Kelly Fields in San Antonio, Texas, graduating in October 1931.
In 1938, he was selected as one of two officers for advanced education at the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration and graduated with a master's degree in June 1940.
In 1957, at the age of 48, Eckert was commissioned lieutenant general, making him the youngest three-star officer in the United States Armed Forces. When he retired, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.
Just before becoming the commissioner of Major League Baseball, Eckert worked as a management consultant to the aviation industry. During this period, he served on the boards of directors of several corporations.
Tenure as Commissioner of Major League Baseball
More than 150 names appeared on the original list of nominees for the commissionership following Ford Frick's retirement. The club owners initially were unable to decide if the next commissioner should come from the ranks of the game (e.g., the president of the American or National Leagues), or elsewhere. They finally decided that the new commissioner should have a strong business background to deal with the problems that were confronting the game at the time.
Eckert had not appeared on any lists of prospective candidates at first. He only became a serious candidate for the commissionership after fellow officer Curtis LeMay gave Major League Baseball a recommendation for him. On November 17, 1965, by a unanimous vote of the then-20 major league club owners, William Eckert became the fourth Commissioner of Major League Baseball.
When he became commissioner, Eckert had not seen a game in person in over 10 years. He was almost completely unknown to the public, leading sportswriters to nickname him "the Unknown Soldier."
He incurred the public's ire by refusing to cancel games after the assassinations of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and team owners' disdain because he refused to deal forcefully with substantive business issues. By 1968, the owners anticipated a players' strike, and had long since lost confidence in Eckert's ability to handle the situation. For this reason, Eckert was forced to resign at the end of the season, although he still had three years on his contract.
In spite of his much publicized failures and shortcomings, Eckert also developed more effective committee actions, streamlined business methods and helped stabilize franchises with bigger stadiums and long-term leases. In addition, Eckert worked hard toward promoting the game internationally, including a 1966 tour of Japan by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
References in popular culture
Los Angeles sports columnist Jim Murray ended a column with a hypothetical quote from Eckert: "I wish everyone a happy and prosperous 1897!"
In a 1966 Peanuts comic strip, Charlie Brown's pitcher's mound gets washed away by a heavy rainstorm. Lucy then suggests, "Why don't you send a letter to Commissioner Eckert, and have him send you a new one?" Charlie Brown thinks little of this idea.
- William D. Eckert (MLB Commissioner 1965-1968)
- Lieutenant General William D. Eckert, Air Force Biography